A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

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Review: False Readings

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on December 05, 2015

Tagged: osr falsemachine

Patrick Stuart’s most recent effort is False Stories, a series of short stories (and fragments of stories). There are twelve in total. If this collection was screening at the Toronto International Film Festival I’d place it in its Wavelengths programme: “Daring, visionary and autonomous voices. Films that expand our notions of cinema.”

An aggressive move, opening with The Possessing Verse. The story is told in the second person—who does that?—and the narration bounces between prose and poetry—or that? At first I thought to myself, “seriously, man?” Once the story gets going it feels like less of an art piece and more straight up enjoyable—and at times quite funny—fiction. The format ends up helping narrate the action in an interesting way. The world hinted at in this little vignette feels straight up D&D in a good way.

The second story, The Isogyre, is excellent: short and to the point. A heist, a betrayal, and then we read of the revenge from beyond the grave. The way magic works in this world is wonderfully creepy.

What follows next is a series of stories about the Snail Knights. A twist on Arthurian tales, instead featuring knights that ride snails. Patrick had posted about the snail knights on his blog, and I remember skimming the post and quickly moving on with my life. I didn’t think i’d like these stories, but then I finished them and am now heart broken because the rest of these stories are incomplete, and because the stories themselves are so sad. They are also lovely and sweet. Illustrated I could imagine this being a really nice children’s book. (Well, at times its quite gruesome, so who knows?) These stories are my favourite in the book, and make the whole anthology worth owning.

The next story is fiction produced out of Patrick’s D&D work. We are told the first of a four party story of how Ghar Zaghoun from Deep Carbon Observatory got his magical bow. This was the first story in his collection whose style never really grew on me. The tale itself is enjoyable, and I enjoyed its conclusion, but I think an editor’s help could make it better. (I’m not sure how, though. Help the author find their voice or something like that, right?)

The rest of False Readings is incomplete unfinished stories. Most of these stories I skimmed or skipped. I think I need to be in the right mood to read and enjoy them. I liked Susjinn, the first story for Thieves in the Empire of Glass, but couldn’t get into the second. The last story in this collection, The Death of the King of Ants could probably be some good doorstop fantasy if Patrick had the time and inclination to finish it.

Patrick writes something I buy it: a man has to have a code. I bought this collection because I like to support the people who put out cool stuff in this scene. Patrick’s posted fiction to his blog that I haven’t bothered reading, because I don’t really read blogs to read fiction. I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this collection of writing as much as I did. That was a pleasant surprise.

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Review: Deep Carbon Observatory

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 19, 2014

Tagged: osr falsemachine

Deep Carbon Observatory is an adventure by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. I bought it the day it was announced because it’s an adventure by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. I’ve been reading it on and off while also reading the adventure found in the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set. The contrast between the two adventures is so stark.

Gus has written a thorough review of the nuts and bolts of the module. My opinions more or less mirror his so I’m not sure it’s worth repeating them in too much detail. Instead I will say this one thing: Deep Carbon Observatory is wonderfully written.

The sight is without sound and stinks like an airless tomb burning in the light of an unwanted sun. But, in the silence, movement worms. The whole place has the feel of a terrible revealing. Like a black sheet pulled back from a naked corpse.

Deep Carbon Observatory is thoroughly unrelenting its bleakness. There is a sadness that permeates the whole work. The players march towards the observatory passing all sorts of horror on their way.

The Roc’s bowed wings make a beautiful but alien bridge across the churning water. The body of the bird twitches slightly, devoured by whatever lies beneath. Looking down, you see leeches, sized like men, feeding on the bird. Not yet fully dead its head lolls half sunken and gasps. The ‘bridge’ will be consumed in d4 hours. It may be possible to save the Roc. It will not be grateful if you do.

So much of the adventure makes me feel uncomfortable: there is this dread that builds and builds as you move from page to page in the book. These little vignettes all do a great job of showing the players the terrible aftermath of the flood, hopefully filling them with that same sort of dread as they play. The adventure feels like it would be at home in a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign.

Things don’t get better when you make it to the Underdark.

Hidden under the dirt of the far wall are slave survival spells in a simple tongue, decipherable by any mage. All the spells count as level one, are not very powerful and can be cast without being noticed: Reduce Scars. Lessen Pain. Minimise Thirst. Hide Sorrow. Avoid Notice. Ease Grief.

Scrap Princess’ illustrations contribute to the overall tone of the book. I find her work is so frenzied and terrifying. Maybe that’s not the right word, but there is something about how she draws that I find really visceral. I don’t know anyone else that draws like her.

I own no other adventure like this one: I liked it a lot.

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